By Nadia Cassim
Henry J.M Nouwen once said, “As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgements, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their ‘right’ place”
Whilst growing up, more often than not, we are told that judging others is wrong, sinful and contradictory to the teachings of Islam. In this regard passages from the Holy Quran such as Surah al Hujurât verses 12 and 15, become applicable.
It is stated in the Holy Quran:
“O you who have believed, avoid much (negative) assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; Indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful (Surah al Hujurât:12)
Furthermore, Allah says with regards to ascertaining the truth and judging another on hearsay and suspicion:
“O you who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest you harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what you have done” (Surah al Hujurât:5)
In conjunction with the above, Sheikh Ahmad al-Khudayrî, professor at al-Imâm University in Riyadh believes that “as Muslims, the default assumption we should have about other people in any matter is that they are free of blame” (Islamtoday.net, November 2012). He also goes on to say that it is better to stress on the good points of another person, rather than their faults.
But why do we still judge others knowing that it’s wrong?
Jarl Forsman, the co-founder of Gratitude Twenty Four Seven believes that every person we meet, every encounter that we have with someone, is a gift that can shed light on who we are and what we accept about ourselves. Simply put, encounters with others can lead to greater self-awareness. Forsman also goes on to say that the reactions we have to others can be informative and enlightening and can tell us more about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, rather than that of the person we are judging. She explains that “we can never know what motivates another person, but you can learn what you are accepting and judging in yourself” (Forsman, 2012).
The Three Main Reasons Why we Judge Others
Forsman believes that human beings judge one another for mainly three reasons, the first being intolerance.
We do not tolerate characteristics in others that we do not allow in ourselves. She uses the following example to illustrate her point:
Let’s say, for instance, that you are a shy and passive person attending a function where there is a group of outgoing individuals, laughing and joking boldly. You may remark that they are being “loud and obnoxious” because you, yourself are embarrassed to behave in this manner. You may shake your head with disapproval and fell “put off”, but judgement of this type could in fact mean that you are not expressing yourself fully. Being aware of this truth can help you work on bettering your self-expression. This group of outgoing individuals may therefore have given you the gift of “freer self-expression” (Forsman, 2012).
Forsman’s second reason as to why we judge others is that of Disowning Behaviour. The basic principle behind Disowning Behaviour is that we may dislike characteristics in others that we do not own up as having ourselves. This means that we do not own up to our flaws, but prefer pointing them out in others. Forman believes that if we self-reflect and be honest with ourselves by acknowledging our own faults, then we may feel a greater compassion and acceptance for others.
The last of Forsman’s reasons why we judge others, is that of Envy. Often we resent the accomplishments of others because we have not yet reached that level of success in our own lives. Recognising our own feelings of inadequacy in this regard enables us to cope with uncomfortable feelings and use the success of others as a motivating force for our own achievements instead.
Being aware of the above factors that influence our judgements can enable us to at the very least, be neutral in our perception of others. This does not mean that we will not have our own preferences, but it will enable us to feel compassion for the other person, rather than pass judgement on them. After all, “most judgements of others are ego strategies to avoid uncomfortable feelings” (Forsman, 2012). In essence, we should be taking a closer look at ourselves, rather than at the actions of another.